Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — Lockup
Every week in these recaps it seems I fail to mention something important that happened in the previous week’s episode, and every time so far it’s been because I have yet to be interested by any of this season’s overarching plots and would much rather just watch the Agents messing about. Last week, we discovered the existence of the Darkhold, a sinister-looking book of dark magic that… I don’t really know, I never really cared about any of that Ghost Rider/Johnny Blaze/Midnight Sons era of ’90s comics. I think all we really need to know is that it’s evil, and this week we learned that as much as we can read it, it’s reading us right back. It’s like the abyss that way.
In “Lockup”, the Agents’ plans to spring Ghost Rider’s uncle from jail before the psycho scientist ghosts get him go awry when they, basically, screw everything up because of personal issues. Daisy, who’s not using her powers because of the delicate state they’ve left her in without her gauntlets, decides to take on pretty much the whole prison herself in hand-to-hand combat (because she likes not having powers and not using a gun) in a situation that really looked like it would’ve been fine if she’d worked with the group (May and Coulson but she locked them out), and Ghost Rider goes after one of the last remnants of the gang responsible for his brother’s paralysis instead of leading his Uncle to safety, allowing the lead psycho scientist ghost to take him. Meanwhile, back at S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, director Mace outs himself as an Inhuman, trading in his cache as a hero of the Vienna UN attacks (from Captain America: Civil War) in an attempt to fight back against the growing anti-Inhuman sentiment. And it works, but of course he’s harbouring the dark secret that there was more to that situation than people know (i.e., he probably wasn’t a hero).
In keeping with the general theme of the Agents’ activities superceding the overarching plot(s) of this season, the most important thing you need to know about “Lockup” is that it was actually really funny, and, if nothing else, it’s a sign that our remaining leads are definitely on top of things in terms of selling their parts of the show. The way Coulson said “psycho scientist ghost” (emphasis on the GHOST) or director Mace telling Agent Simmons about the complexities of an interview he’s about to give just before telling her, “also, we’re live in 15 minutes”? It all worked really beautifully.
And I really liked that energy shield too. For those reasons, best episode of the (still young) season.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Lockup” episode score
The Flash — The New Rogues
With Harrison Wells and his daughter, the newly superspeed-empowered Jesse Quick, still on this Earth after their victory over the mistress of magnetism, Magenta (and her multiple personalities), Jesse begins training under Barry in the proper use of speed, but when the new rogues – Mirror Master and the Top – make their presence known in Central City, it’s once again up to team Flash to save the day. Meanwhile, Harrison, Cisco and Caitlin begin a most peculiar search.
With an episode completely free of Dr. Alchemy, “The New Rogues” harkened back to the days when the original S.T.A.R. Labs explosion was responsible for all of the bad guy freaks of Central City, and while it was nice to see the brief return of Leonard “Captain Cold” Snart in this week’s episode in establishing Mirror Master and the Top’s shared origins, it’s also a reminder of how underwhelming the villains have been this season. Sure, this third season is still very young, but there’s almost no part of me that really ever wants find out what’s going on with Dr. Alchemy, and that’s even after acknowledging that he must be Draco Malfoy (who was also absent this episode; coincidence?!?). There’s also a fun sidestory about finding a replacement Dr. Wells (who wants to go back to his Earth-2) that was almost treated like a diversion but seems destined to become something much bigger soon (also, the preview for next week told us so).
The two new villains didn’t do much for me this episode, though, almost to the point that I had to question whether that was by design, with Mirror Master really (REALLY) not making the most of his powers, and the Top (whose name takes on a more sexually charged meaning in our modern world relative to the character’s Silver Age origins) feeling like a low-rent Harley Quinn as she spun to Mirror Master’s tune as if to drive home that her supervillain name is “the Top”. The other duo of the night did work really well, however, with Barry teaching Jesse about the finer points of speed in a character development that hopefully sticks (i.e., Barry has learned things/isn’t a dumbass). There’s just something really satisfying about watching two speedsters racing together rather than against each other and the two play off each other well enough that I kind of wish Jesse would stick around. Or I would wish that if I believed the writers of this show could handle two (and maybe soon three) good-guy speedsters. There’s also some drama in the episode stemming from Barry trying to get some from Iris when they’re in front of Joe. Barry’s nervous about it, Joe’s uneasy about it, and Iris is annoyed by the atmosphere of nervous unease. My advice on that sticky situation? Don’t ever do that stuff in front of your dad even if your new girlfriend isn’t also your stepsister that he raised. In fact, don’t ever do that stuff in front of your parents. Even better, don’t ever do that stuff in front of anyone.
In trying to free Barry from the mirror prison he’d become trapped in at the episode’s midpoint, the solution that Cisco and Wells come up with, of course, involved cold, and when the group needed to step out mid-bust-Barry-out to attend to an alert, Caitlin, of course, stays behind to provide the extra boost of cold only someone with developing Killer Frost powers can give. Because of course. Of all of this season’s new storylines, Caitlin’s might be the most maddening (though not the worst, that still belongs to everything going on with Dr. Alchemy) in that, by hiding it, it’s implied that she’ll become Killer Frost. I can’t help but think that, after visiting so many alternate Earths, the Flash team would be willing to believe that Caitlin’s powers won’t automatically make her a villain. She might still be reluctant to trust people after the messiness of last season’s Jay Garrick/Hunter Zolomon debacle, but still, trust your friends Caitlin, isn’t that what this show is all about? A-almost every week?
Clumsy stuff, but still acceptable.
The Flash “The New Rogues” episode score
Legends of Tomorrow — Shogun
When we last saw our Legends (and they’re really going with that as their team name now even though they’re still far from proving themselves to be legends [and the whole “you’re legends” thing was all a lie anyway]), the team had just departed from 1942 when Rex Tyler was killed by the Reverse-Flash, leaving only the cryptic words “time… time traveller” as a clue as to who killed him. Or rather, that’s how it looked, it turns out Vixen, who was the first (and only one?) to find the dying [Hour]man stowed aboard the Waverider just before the Legends left, blaming the team for murdering the man she… liked a lot? Maybe loved? That crying at the end of last episode felt a little too sincere to not have been more than platonic love. Anyway, another new cast member was added!
I still feel pretty bad about Hourman’s death last episode. He was our first link to the deeper, wider world the Legends find themselves in in season 2, the first point of contact to the Justice Society, and it seemed like his story might just have been starting with our heroes even if he wasn’t going to be a full-time addition like Vixen. On the other hand, he turned out to be a jerk, so no big loss, although I hope the explanation for why the Legends couldn’t go to 1942 is followed up on. Surely little Rex wasn’t just trying to prevent his own death, was he? That can’t be the only thing he was trying to prevent when he told our heroes not to head to that particular year.
Everything I just wrote about in the preceding two paragraphs is precisely the kind of stuff that I wanted to see from Legends of Tomorrow, and I think last episode’s “Justice Society of America” was a strong example of the show approaching (though not quite reaching) its premise’s full potential. Intrigue, espionage, deep explorations of the more esoteric elements of DC’s long comicbook history, complex time machinations with unclear motivations that present ongoing mysteries. Everything we just got in “Shogun”, the latest episode? Just more typical, boiler-plate Legends of Tomorrow.
So the first thing I thought after Nate Heywood, Time Detective, discovered his armoured form and Vixen revealed herself this episode was “Yippee, more people with powers!” By the time we got to the end of the episode, I was thinking “Groan, somebody lost their powers.” “Shogun” was an episode about—I’m not sure what it was about other than what was on the surface. I like that Nate got powers, though, for the sake of drama, we probably could’ve used more time leading to them rather than immediately extinguishing the threat of his hemophilia that was literally just presented to us last episode. I also thought Vixen (who has animal powers) fit in well with our heroes almost immediately, and I even like the mechanisms that led to this week’s adventure, but the actual exploration of feudal Japan mostly felt like an excuse for not building many indoor sets and shooting outside in a nearby forest. We learned that Nate’s into Japanese women, Ray still has issues with the technological source of his abilities, and now he’s nigh-on useless because that armour is gone. Oh, and a future version of Barry/Flash left us a mystery to be solved, maybe over the course of the season, maybe to be solved almost immediately because these shows don’t know the meaning of the words subtlety or layering.
To sum up “Shogun” critically is to sum up a bunch of questions that probably won’t have good answers, so I’ll just list some of my bigger questions right here. Are the Legends that easy to sneak up on? Does Gideon not monitor the ship for unexpected intruders? Does/did Ray’s armour also not have any extra-sensory abilities to warn him of unexpected attacks? A lot of people got knocked out this episode, is that healthy neurologically speaking? Was the bad guy just waiting there in Ray’s armour until his friend showed up, fully willing to let them make their way through his compound like it was nothing? How did he know they were coming or who they were once they got there? Since when can Ray fight with a samurai sword (or at all)? So, unlike Tony Stark, Ray never wanted to iterate on his armour? Build new ones? It was just a one and done and now it’s gone forever? They just spent the early parts of the episode showing Ray’s armour’s lack of effectivity against a powered-up Nate/Steel, was that really the best time to then present Ray’s armour in the hands of a bad guy as the episode’s primary threat? And if it was going to be that tough to defend the village from the bad guy in Ray’s armour, wouldn’t calling Firestorm have been a big help? He’s your most powerful member what with the matter transmutation.
All of the above seems like a lot of words for what was a very mediocre episode of a veeerry mediocre TV show, but this show is so full of potential that sometimes it’s hard not to expound this much on the strengths of its premise and the weaknesses of its execution. The point is that, for such a literally important episode that saw significant changes for several of our central characters, “Shogun” sure didn’t feel vital enough to take time out of your schedule to watch it.
Legends of Tomorrow “Shogun” episode score
The Walking Dead — The Well
Y’know, without all the killing and the brutal tone that left us breathless, the season premiere of The Walking Dead last week was actually a pretty slow episode. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” began with a stare-off between Rick and Negan and only a hint of the blood that had been spilled, dealt almost entirely with the two leaders and had almost no lines for anyone else in the cast, and most of it takes place either in and around a camper or in the same spot in the forest that last season ended on. And seriously, how long was everyone just standing/kneeling there waiting for Negan to come back? That had to be awkward. Everyone just standing there, maybe glacing at their watches, trying not to make eye contact like boys and girls standing at opposite ends of the gym at their first school dance. Really, only three or four significant events occurred last week, and that’s being generous since one or two of them were purely moments of character progression. But all that killing though.
Anyway, if you thought last week’s episode was slow (a conclusion you probably only came to if someone [like me] intentionally tried to frame it that way), this week’s “The Well” was a whole lot slower. It takes place inside a new, peaceful, blissfully unaware town, it gives its two main character — Carol and Morgan — time to recuperate, we never once see anyone or hear a hint of what happened from last week’s eventful episode, and its biggest confrontation is an upbeat and pleasantly hopeful conversation that takes place on a park bench, nary a barbwire-covered-baseball-bat beatdown in sight. And I loved it.
Probably of all of the individual episodes of The Walking Dead we’ve seen so far, last week’s “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” was the one that most called for a breather episode between rounds, and that’s what we got with “The Well” as Carol and Morgan make their way through the Kingdom, a town virtually untouched by the ravages of the outside/walking dead world under the unofficial rule of a theatrical leader who wields a tiger. That’s right a tiger. I think this is the point in both the comicbook and the TV show where the narrative starts to veer off in weirdly different directions from what we’ve seen before, but don’t let the tiger fool you. As different as this episode was, if the show follows the same patterns as the comicbooks (as it generally always has), we’re not all suddenly off to la la land where kings, queens, knights, medieval courts, and exotic animals are the rules of the day. The Kingdom is a land unlike any we’ve seen in some ways, but it’s still running on the same basic principals that they all do: the people have found a way to live in harsh conditions through the vision of a charismatic leader. Like the Governor with his mania, Terminus and its cannibalism, Dawn and whatever her story was (remember that garbage fire of a storyline?), and Negan and his intimidation through bullying and violence, Ezekiel’s just playing his part with the tools he knows best: community theatre acting. Also, fun fact, Carol never met Ezekiel in the comics, she missed that boat by, like, five or six story arcs. Neither did Morgan actually. Actually, now that it comes to it, Carol and Morgan never met each other in the comicbooks either.
In a lot of ways, it’s easy to imagine “The Well” being this season’s “Here’s Not Here”, the Morgan-centric/cheese maker episode from season six, in that it’s a bit of a strange interlude from the main narrative, presented to us in a place just after a major event involving a major character death, but there are some crucial differences in how things have played out so far with the first two episodes of season seven. First of all, at least a part of us wanted to see what happened to Morgan and Carol, a feeling that comes from not only caring more about both of these characters now than we did about just Morgan by himself at that similar point last year, but also because these events were seeded in the closing chapters of last season as we saw Morgan, with an injured Carol, departing with these unknown, spear-wielding, horseback-riding, sports-armour-wearing people. Second, last year we badly wanted to see what happened next (in what turned out to be an extended series of events that prolonged us finding out Glenn’s death was just the fakeout we had been fearing), whereas this year I don’t think we knew how badly we needed a break from the main narrative before heading back into the grim, sorrowful storyline season seven is telling.
“The Well” provided us with a crucial moment to catch our breath(s), as we explored another whole new world, one more whimsically, musically, and theatrically inclined than those we’ve seen before, and it gave us time to explore things like motivations, changes of mind, and maybe even the chance to turn things around from the brutality of last season’s now pyrrhic victories and their ultimate cost(s). Last season, Carol’s journey was a bit of a bring down from the supersoldier she had been in previous years, but now, because we talked things through, it’s easier to understand how what she’s been through has brought her down to this point. Similarly, Morgan’s tendencies toward the self-righteous became grating for fans, and it’s nice now to see the cost of his beliefs and that he’s still sticking to his principals but isn’t so stupid to believe that his way is always right or even the notion that there is a single right way to do things in this world.
We also get a reference to the pressure that Negan’s Saviours have exerted over the Kingdom, something its king has kept his populace unaware of, and it was just the right amount to keep us on the rails of the greater story still being told without dwelling on it or distracting us from the other points of this episode, one of the biggest being that Ezekiel… well, he’s pretty great. It’s rare for a new character to make this big of an impact in such a positive manner, and between the actor, Khary Payton, and the role he’s playing as the ruler of the Kingdom, he’s an easy character to like a lot right away for a variety of reasons, whether its his stage(d) presence, his reasoning, or his motivations. At this point, you almost have to wonder how much of Carol’s journey lately has become a structural parallel to this entire show, particularly now with Ezekiel’s life affirming take on circumstances, telling Carol (and us) that as dark as things can get, where there is life, there’s hope. Pretty much the exact opposite of what happened last week. And that’s a good thing.
The Walking Dead “The Well” episode score
It was a close call (and a technical tie), but, in its second week and with a dearth of violence, The Walking Dead edges out Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the best superhero show of the week.